WITH A LITTLE more than a month remaining until the Phillies' first full-squad workout at Bright House Field, it is looking increasingly likely that Ryan Howard will be a participant. That's because they have little to gain and nothing to lose by holding on to him for the first couple months of the season.
First things first: Maikel Franco should spend the first couple of months of the season at Triple A so that he is not eligible to become a free agent until after the 2021 season. A quick refresher: A team has control over a player for the equivalent of six seasons before he is eligible to become a free agent. A year of service is considered 172 days, although there are usually 183 days in a season. Franco accrued 27 days of service during his September call-up last season. So as long as Franco spends at least 38 days in the minors, he won't be eligible to become a free agent until after the 2021 season. But if he spends fewer than 38 days in the minors, he will be on track to become a free agent after the 2020 season.
Let's say Franco is on the Opening Day roster and turns into a star, never again seeing the minor leagues. This is how his service time would look after each season:
2014. . . 0.027 (0 years, 27 days)
2015. . . 1.027 (1 year, 27 days)
2016. . . 2.027 (2 years, 27 days)
2017. . . 3.027 (3 years, 27 days)
2018. . . 4.027 (4 years, 27 days)
2019. . . 5.027 (5 years, 27 days)
2020. . . 6.027 (6 years, 27 days)
2021. . . FA
He would pass 6 years of service during the 2020 season, thus making him a free agent after that season.
But let's say the Phillies keep Franco in the minors for the first 40 days of the season and call him up in mid-May. He would acrue 143 days of service over the rest of the big-league season, leaving him with 170 at the end of the year. Remember, a full year is 172 days.
In that scenario, this is how his service time would look after each season:
2014. . . 0.027 (0 years, 27 days)
2015. . . 0.170 (0 years, 170 days)
2016. . . 1.170 (1 year, 170 days)
2017. . . 2.170 (2 years, 170 days)
2018. . . 3.170 (3 years, 170 days)
2019. . . 4.170 (4 years, 170 days)
2020. . . 5.170 (5 years, 170 days)
2021. . . 6.170 (6 years, 170 days)
2022. . . FA
As you can see, Franco wouldn't reach his sixth full year of service time until sometime during the 2021 season, keeping him in Philadelphia until the end of that year. For a team that does not figure to compete for the next 2-to-3 years, that extra year is huge. Essentially, the question is: Would you rather have Franco for this season or for the 2021 season? Oh, and if you pick the 2021 season, you get him for the majority of this season as well. No-brainer. If he doesn't end up living up to his potential, then this whole discussion is moot. But if he doesn't live up to his potential, then you didn't lose anything by not having him in the big leagues for 2 extra months this year. The decision is self-evident.
Now, back to Howard:
The frequency with which national reporters are mentioning Howard's name suggests that the Phillies are actively trying to drum up interest in the first baseman. ESPN's Jayson Stark even reported that the Phillies are, well, let's turn the floor over to him:
Teams in touch w #Phillies say they're talking up what a great person Ryan Howard is. That.s true. But still sounds like they have no takers
- Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 12, 2015
Friend 1: Hey, I want to hook you up with my first baseman.
Friend 2: Oh yeah, what's he like?
Friend 1: Well, he's got a GREAT personality.
Just sayin' . . .
Anyway, Ken Rosenthal suggested the other day that Howard's market value is somewhere between $7 million and $10 million per year, but as good of a job as Rosenthal does, I think he's drastically overstating things in this instance.
A simple for-instance: Howard is a 35-year-old first baseman who had a .690 OPS and 23 home runs last season. Justin Smoak is a 28-year-old first baseman who had a .614 OPS and seven home runs with Seattle. But over the three previous seasons, he had a .705 OPS and 54 homers. Over the last 3 years, Howard had a .720 OPS with 48 home runs.
The Blue Jays claimed Smoak on waivers, nontendered him, then signed him to a 1-year, $1 million deal to provide lefthanded power. Assuming Howard would have OK'd a trade to Toronto, it suggests Toronto decided it was better off spending $1 million on Smoak than whatever Howard would have cost, even if Howard would have cost only $6 million or $7 million more (per Rosenthal's estimate). That's a little convoluted. Might not even make sense.
Point is: If the Phillies are asking teams to take on at least $14 million of $60 million remaining on Howard's contract, then they are going to have Howard at first base on Opening Day. (They could be using Kendrys Morales' 2-year, $17 million deal with Kansas City as a comparison, but Morales is 32 and had two straight .780-plus OPS and 20-plus HR seasons before last year's abbreviated stinker.) And with Franco likely to start the year in the minors, that's not necessarily a bad thing.